Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Gudrun Roy


Me and my sister both applied for college the same year. She was a braniac so she graduated school a year earlier than she should have. We both wanted to go to Harper College. We both wanted to do the same course. We both applied.
She got in. I didn’t. There’s my resentment in a nutshell.
We got letters that same day, and we both went into the living room where mum was in the same spot in front of the TV with her tray-dinner. My sister thrust her letter into Mum’s face and shrieked, ‘I got in!’
‘Oh, darling, that’s wonderful,’ Mum said, and for once I think she really meant it. I was a step behind, scanning my letter still. They both looked at me as I read the words, Rejection. As I read the words, Apply again next year.
‘Well?’ my sister said innocently. Mum smiled sadly, prepared to tell me it was okay that I hadn’t got in.
I crushed my letter into a ball, and crushed my face into a prize-winning grin, and shouted, ‘I got in too!’
There was much merriment. And that would have been all okay, except I hadn’t really got in at all. And my sister had. It was a real mess. My sister found out very quickly, of course she did. But I was so determined to keep up the pretence for Mum that I went round to Harper College to beg for a job just so I could catch the same bus in the morning. I wanted so desperately to be part of the experience.
They hired me to repaint the Harper College sign. It was getting a little flakey, they said. This is what my life had come to.
Short of hanging myself from the tree outside Lilly’s classroom window, this was the biggest guilt-trip she said I could have managed. Lilly is my sister’s name. That first day she came walking out of the front gates with a gaggle of girls following her, and she had to pass me, her sister, sweating and sighing, balanced on a stepladder, laboriously slapping paint on the block letters that say Harper College. It’s blisteringly hot, and I have my t-shirt has ridden up around my waist, exposing my stomach to the public. Just to rub salt in the wound Lilly is much skinnier than me.
In the driveway Lilly blushed red on my behalf, and shouted, ‘Carmen, why are you doing this?’
She sounds so sorry for me, and that’s the worst part. I don’t want her pity. We used to be on the same level, and even though I’m towering over her in a physical sense, she’s miles above me now. One of the elite. A Harper College Art student.
‘Are you making a point?’ Lilly asks, ignoring her new friends’ whispering and giggling. I’m sure they’re talking about me. I stomp down the stepladder, almost slipping in my haste.
‘If you’re making a point, then I don’t get it!’ Lilly continues. ‘You’re just making it worse for yourself. It’s not my fault you didn’t get in!’
‘Look,’ I say, using my once superior Big Sister voice. Now it just sounds disproportionately angry. I start putting the lids back on my paint pots. ‘Just do your thing and ignore me, okay? Is it not enough that you got in? You know, the worst part is that you’re ‘the brainy one’, and you could have gotten into any course no bother, but you had to pick mine. If I hadn’t got accepted, I’d just say my art was too radical for them, and they liked you because you’re a little goody-two-shoes. But you didn’t. You had to pick the same thing as me! But it doesn’t matter, because it’s happened now. Can’t you just let me work in peace? Give me that at least!’
Lilly clenches her fists and blushes harder. She’s angry this time. ‘That’s so unfair! I wanted to do this just as much as you! I didn’t get in to spite you. This is my dream too!’
‘It was my dream first,’ I snap, and I grab my brushes in a handful and storm away. Later, at home again, Lilly tries to make up, but I shush her in case Mum hears. She still thinks we’re helping each other with coursework in a happy, sisterly fashion. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I wish I lived inside Mum’s head. I wish so hard I lived the lie I’d constructed for her.
I watch Lilly making herself hot chocolate, playing the martyr. I won’t be able to stand her much longer, not if I keep feeling like this. I clench my fists so hard my nails dig deep into the palms of my hands.
The following morning, I’m back at the sign again. Lilly, surrounded by girls, had rushed past me with her head down as they entered the grounds for a new day of classes. Mercifully the sun hasn’t appeared from behind the clouds yet, making my job more bearable. The cool morning air makes my head clearer.
It can’t go on like this. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but it’ll be something.
The last girl is dropped at the end of the drive in a Mercedes. She marches toward me, the jaunty walk of someone who was accepted first time. Or whose Daddy is rich enough to pay her in. She has a sleek blonde bob and a swinging shoulder bag with the Harper College emblem. Her posh blazer has the same badge. I start to get ideas.
‘Missed a spot!’ the girl shouts, and grins at me. I think she’s joking, but I’m not really listening. I clamber swiftly down the ladder, checking to see if her Mercedes has driven off.
The girl sees my face, and says, ‘Hey, I was kidding, freak. What are you doing?’
I rush at her with the force of a bullet, and tackle her to the ground. She’s just a skinny, blonde twig of a thing. She’s no match for my raw anger. After stretching them to paint above my head for a whole day, my arms feel like iron.
‘What the hell are you doing, you maniac?’ the girls wheezes. I’ve knocked all the air out of her.
‘Hold still, it’s not like I’m really hurting you,’ I snap. I strip her of her jacket, her crisp shirt, her pressed skirt, even her knee-high socks with the single stripe.
‘Oh my god!’ the girl starts wailing, her shiny hair filled with dust and pebbles from the drive. She wriggles away from me, staggering to her feet. ‘You’re crazy!’
I ignore her. The buttons on her shirt strain over my chest. I have to tear the skirt to wrench it over my hips. The socks come halfway up my calfs. The jacket pinches under my arms. Meanwhile, this girl is staring at me, knees knocking, hugging herself in her plain old bra and pants. I feel like an elephant. She’s like a quivering, white mouse.
I chuck her bag and shoes at her. ‘Call your dad or something,’ I tell her, and then I turn and march towards the college building.
‘What the hell are you going to do?’ the girl shouts after me.
‘Whatever I want!’ I shout back. After all, I’m a Harper College girl now. In my own shoes, and the blonde girls uniform, I stride through the front gates with the same confidence she embodied. Before I’d stripped her of her dignity, of course. My paint pots and brushes are discarded at the bottom of the step-ladder, the sign left half flaked away. It’s not my responsibility anymore.
Now all I have to do is find my sister.


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